5 Friends Take the Same Photo Every 5 Years Since 1982

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By: Arthur Gold | Published: Dec 01, 2022

In 1982, 5 good friends took a seemingly ordinary photo. Decades later they have recreated the same photo every 5 years despite trials and tribulations.

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This heart-warming tale reminds us of the beauty of lifelong friendships. But, the photo also raised questions among audiences. Check out this spectacular story!

1982: So it Begins

On July 4th, 1982 5 friends gathered to take a photo near the border of Oregon and California. The group of 5 was made up of John Dickson, John Wardlaw, Mark Rumer-Cleary, John Molony, and Dallas Burney.

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You may notice some details about this photo that will become critical to our story. The 3 Johns in the group (yes, there are 3 different Johns) are all shirtless and sport brooding expressions. And, one of them holds a mysterious jar.

The First Picture

That first picture was taken when the boys had just graduated from high school. They had no idea what kind of tradition they were starting on that day when they snapped a seemingly ordinary shot.

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That photo of them in front of the mountains would become an integral part of a lifelong friendship that stood the test of time. 

The Journey That Began With Tragedy

The squad of boys had known each other long before the first photo was taken. In fact, they had been buddies since before 1977! That year, John Wardlaw (also known as Wedge) had the tragic misfortune of his family home burning down.

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When his home burned down in 1977 along with 250 others, the boys were actually all together at the movie theaters, seeing Star Wars. Apparently, his home was right next to that of John Dickson (or JD), which was how the two met.

The Bond Between Wedge and JD

Wedge and JD bonded over their love for the Super 8 Movies and they spent lots of time together when they were young since their homes were right next to each other. 

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The boys shared a love for the science fiction and ninja moves of the films. Soon enough, they found some more friends who liked the movies as well. Thus, John Molony (Belves), Mark Rumer-Clearly (Kram), and Dallas Burney (Sallad) joined the group.

The Cabin Where it all Went Down

When the boys were lounging around at home watching movies, they were spending time in the cabin on Copco Lake which had been built by Wedge’s grandpa. This is where that first photo was taken.

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Wedge’s grandfather had constructed a beautiful cabin with 3 bedrooms, a loft, and even a basement. There was plenty of space for all 5 boys to hang out for the summer. 

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One Trip Solidified a Lifelong Tradition

After one summer spent at the cabin, the boys were hooked! It became an annual tradition that they would go there for the Fourth of July. JD was the one that whipped out his camera on that first trip.

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He was inspired by the mountainous background! After the first one, Wedge encouraged everyone to recreate it five years later. They used the original picture for reference.

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5 Years Later, Not Much Has Changed

Exactly 5 years after the first photo, the boys arranged themselves into the same exact positions and retook the picture. The year was 1987 and it looked like almost nothing had changed. 

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JD was on the far left, followed by Belves, Sallad, Kram, and finally Wedge. The Johns were shirtless once again and that mysterious jar made a reappearance.

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The Mysterious Empty Jar

Many people who have followed this story had wondered what the purpose of that seemingly random empty jar was. Why had they included it in the photo each year? Apparently, the boys had put a cockroach in the jar that first year. It was to be something of a mascot for the friend group.

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But they added something else to the jar as well: “For some reason, we thought he might be lonely, so we cut out a photo of actor Robert Young… from a coffee advertisement and placed him in the jar”. 

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They Hadn’t Planned on the Third Photo

While they had fun recreating their iconic picture the second time, none of the boys had really planned on doing it for the third time. They had returned to Copco Lake all gown up as it had now been a decade since the first photo was taken.

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They were still creating their Super 8 Film called You Only Die Once. It was a James Bond parody film starring Lames Blond Double O Zero. And since they were there, they thought they might as well strike the same pose for a third time.

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The Third Photo

The unplanned third photo was a little different than the first 2; however, the jar still made an appearance. The pose is the same, but the jar was empty and the Johns had decided to keep their shirts on.

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Most likely the weather was the reason for their clothing staying on. But, their brooding expressions remained as they had in the first photos.

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Why So Serious?

Many people have questioned why the boys have such sullen expressions in the photos. Surely they are happy to be together! So, why do they look so unamused?

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Wedge explained the most likely reason for those expressions, “I’m sure we thought we were really cool”. Despite the long faces, we know the boys were happy to spend their summers together at the lake.

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The Fourth Photo (1997)

Now, the year is 1977 and the boys gather at the lake for the fourth time in 15 years. This year, the picture starts to look pretty different. Dallas sports a smile instead of the familiar sullen expression.

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They’re lined up slightly different than the original. But, Wedge used this photo to make sure the following ones would be more accurate. He made sure everyone would be lined up and positioned correctly, even though it meant annoying his friends to get it right.

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The Key to Keeping the Friendship Alive

What was even more impressive than the boys recreating the photo every five years was that they had remained close friends for this long! Kram explained that they never really had any major falling outs.

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He stated, “Other than two guys being irritated with each other for three months a little after high school… It was nothing lasting”. However, they did almost break their tradition and take the photo earlier than 5 years apart!

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The “Early Photo” Which One Member Refused to Pose For

This is the photo that would have been the fifth in line, but as you can see, they are down a member. What had happened is that the boys wanted to start taking the photos more frequently, but Kram refused to join!

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JD remembered, “We were all sitting out there and he wouldn’t come out”. Kram was dedicated to sticking to the 5-year plan. You might notice the all-important jar is also missing from the image. 

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Men of Tradition

The boys had other traditions that they have stuck to throughout the years as well. When Wedge’s grandfather passed away, the cabin became his home and so it made it possible for the boys to meet up and keep the traditions alive. 

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The crew also created a tradition of jamming out to Pink Floyd and Rush, the same way they always did back in 1982. They would also indulge in his grandfather’s aged bottles of whiskey.

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The Funkiest Whiskey Bottles Ever

That aged whiskey was the only alcohol the boys ever indulged in at the cabin. It was kept in 1969 Ezra Brooks decanters that were shaped like boars. Wedge now collects those bottles and even has the very first one they drank from.

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The image above displays Wedge with those funky whiskey bottles. He’s mimicking the brooding expression that was made famous from the five-year photos.

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The Real Fifth Picture

The boys didn’t count the photo they took without Kram, so this is technically the fifth photo in the collection. The jar is back, and they’re all lined up accurately, but there are a few differences here.

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Sallad is smiling. Apparently, the friends still make fun of him for this little oversight. Also, Belves forgot to wear his signature sunglasses and the boys actually photoshopped them on later. They used the comically large jar as a joke.

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Embracing Digital Cameras

By the time the 2000s rolled around, film cameras were falling way out of style. Digital was in! So, for the foreseeable future, they would be using a digital camera to capture their special photo every five years.

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Wedge complained about the transition, “It took 30 seconds to take the original. Now it takes a half hour to take a photo because it had to be perfect”. The digital camera allowed them to take as many retakes as they wanted to get it just right.

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The Sixth Picture

The sixth photo was taken in 2007 with a D70 camera. This year, they wanted to make it as close to the original as possible. The sunglasses were on, the usual jar made a comeback, and the smiles were put away. 

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Interestingly, fans of the journey accused the guys of switching photos because they appeared younger in this one than they had in the previous shot. In reality, they just looked younger because they had lost some weight and dyed some hair.

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The Five-Year Photos Made Headlines

This was when the project started to become popular. The boys were even on the news for their little photo project. People love the photos and loved the friendship even more.

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Their playful attitude really caught on with online audiences. JD explained, “We got a lot of emails from people who wrote they couldn’t believe we stayed friends that long”.

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Years Pass and it Becomes Harder to Get Together

The friends had now spread out across the states and had lives of their own. Only JD stayed in Santa Barbara and ran the city’s tourism site. Sallad moved to Antioch, California to teach, and Kram and Wedge moved to Oregon.

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One became an engineer and the other a photographer. Belves relocated to New Orleans to become a photographer as well. It was not easy to get the five guys together at Copco Lake every 5 years, but they managed to make it work.

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The Seventh Picture in Full Force

Despite the distance, all five of the members managed to make it to the lake and pose for the seventh photo at the lake. By 2012, it had been 3 entire decades since the first photo was taken. 

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This year, they decided to put a caramel candy and a photo of Robert Young in the jar. For whatever reason, this photo was the one that really made the five friends an overnight sensation.

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People Were Loving It

The 2012 picture of the five friends really took off on the internet. People were obsessed with the story and the five-year photos. Belves reported, “I couldn’t believe the amount of reactions to our picture”.

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Suddenly, they were making the front pages. A friend of JD’s in Sweden told him that they were on the front of his newspaper! They were even featured in the Museum fur Kommunikation in Frankfurt, Germany.

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T.V. Appearances

Now that the world was interested, they began making some television appearances. None of them could believe that a simple photo had landed them in this position. They appeared on The Today Show as well as many other programs.

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They were invited to so many shows that they had to turn down some appearances on CBS, FOX, and ABC. Everyone wanted to see the men behind the photos and know more about the friendships they had with each other.

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They Even Met the Fierce Five

The five friends even had the privilege of meeting the Fierce Five! The talented gymnasts were at the height of their fame as they had won the second gold team medal from the U.S. in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

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Here the five friends are posing with the other iconic group of five: Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross, Jordyn Wieber, and McKayla Maroney.

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Photo Number Eight

After all the television appearances and internet fame, the group gathered once again for their 8th photo at Copco Lake in 2017. This was their 35th anniversary and they even made a little call out to Matt Lauer who had interviewed them for their Today Show appearance. 

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If you look closely enough, you might see a tiny picture of Matt Lauer in the iconic jar. For the fruits time since 1987, the three Johns were once again shirtless. They took great care to replicate the original as best as possible for this one as a sign of appreciation to all the fans they had gained. 

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With Loving Fans Came Haters As Well

In any case of internet fame, there are adoring fans and people who can’t help but bring the negativity. There’s no escaping it! Belves explained that “about 75% of the responses were glowing and loving… but some of it was visceral hate”. 

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Commenters speculated about how they would recreate the photo when one of the members passes away. The friends reply with their usual jokes: “We thought an Urn might be funny since we have a sense of humor about it”.

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Families of Their Own

While the spouses are not pictured in the five-year photos, they are always behind the scenes. Since the 2017 picture was taken, all five of the members had been married.

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So far, JD is the only one to have had kids. He explained that he “wanted to become a father for a long time”. While they all grew their own families, the friends still kept the photos to the core group.

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Photo Number Nine

The ninth photo came in 2022 and featured all the usual suspects. The jar contains a plastic roach as an homage to the original as well as a butterscotch candy. This was the first year that people other than the friends were present for the iconic photo. 

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Some reporters from CNN were present to document the experience. This one also marked 40 years of recreation. We hope we can expect many more to come! 

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What the Friends Will Look Like in the Future

The friends have a website where they have shared their photos as well as the story behind them. An artist created this image of them and the friends joked that this is what their photo will look like in 3017!

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We love that they want to continue the tradition fro as long as possible and that they welcome us in on the journey with them. Here’s to many more five-year photos to come!

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